The situation

The eco­nom­ic and fin­an­cial crisis in Belarus-a con­sequence of the planned eco­nomy and the decreas­ing level of Rus­si­an sub­sidies-has jeop­ard­ized the “social con­tract” between the pop­u­la­tion, on the one side, and the pres­id­ent, as the guar­ant­or of eco­nom­ic and social sta­bil­ity and gradu­al improve­ment, on the oth­er. Against this economic/​social back­ground, many people in the coun­try put up the vari­ous infringe­ments of inter­na­tion­ally guar­an­teed human and civil rights. Now though, dis­sat­is­fac­tion is on the rise among the pop­u­la­tion, as is solid­ar­ity with the vic­tims of per­se­cu­tion. The regime dreads the upris­ing that has long been on the minds of many Belarus­i­ans. It intends to fore­stall that upris­ing by increas­ing repres­sion. Lukashen­ko has been pres­sur­ing his part­ners in the “Col­lect­ive Secur­ity Treaty Organ­iz­a­tion (CSTO)”, an alli­ance whose mem­bers include Rus­sia, Armenia, Kaza­kh­stan, Kir­giz­stan, Tajikistan and Uzbek­istan in addi­tion to Belarus, to agree on a strategy for col­lect­ive inter­ven­tion against intern­al upris­ings.

The regime is attempt­ing to use admin­is­trat­ive resources to over­come the con­sequences of the eco­nom­ic and fin­an­cial con­straints. The Rus­si­an-dom­in­ated Euras­i­an Eco­nom­ic Com­munity has gran­ted a major loan. Rus­si­an loans are being tied to privat­iz­a­tion require­ments; new IMF loans remain a vague hope that is unlikely to be real­ized, giv­en the con­tinu­ing repres­sion.

To retain power, the pres­id­ent has been scal­ing up repress­ive activ­it­ies. He has been cri­ti­cized for his strong-arm tac­tics by Moscow, as well as by the West. Lukashenko’s vul­ner­ab­il­ity is a wel­come devel­op­ment for Moscow. The expos­ure of his weak­nesses has become a routine item on the Rus­si­an media’s daily agenda. Moscow is eas­ing con­di­tions for Belarus­i­ans to take up employ­ment in Rus­sia. Belarus­i­an circles in Moscow are mak­ing plans for the future. But in view of the Belarus­i­an population’s increas­ingly neg­at­ive atti­tude towards cor­por­ate acquis­i­tions in Belarus by Rus­si­an firms, Lukashenko’s poten­tial suc­cessors are unlikely to want to let them­selves be pulled “into the Rus­si­an camp” without put­ting up con­sid­er­able res­ist­ance.

With­in the mul­ti­lat­er­al frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, the European Uni­on is aim­ing for devel­op­ments and activ­it­ies in Belarus that are offi­cial in char­ac­ter and firmly rooted in soci­ety, des­pite the unsat­is­fact­ory intern­al devel­op­ments. It does, though, avoid the appear­ance of mutu­al trust in bilat­er­al rela­tions. How­ever, there can be no new begin­ning without the release of all polit­ic­al pris­on­ers. It is essen­tial that the pro­ceed­ings against the lead­ers and staff of oppos­i­tion organ­iz­a­tions give rise to no leg­ally rel­ev­ant restric­tions, e.g. when regis­ter­ing as can­did­ates for elec­tions.

In view of the con­tinu­ing exacer­ba­tion of the situ­ation in Belarus, Menschen­rechte in Belarus e.V. con­siders the nam­ing of a spe­cial rep­res­ent­at­ive by the European Uni­on and by cer­tain nation­al gov­ern­ments for cooper­a­tion with the civil soci­ety in Belarus to be the order of the day (see Sec­tion II – Pro­pos­als for spe­cif­ic meas­ures)

Unspoken, but hanging in the air, is the idea of anoth­er “horse trade”: fin­an­cial assist­ance in exchange for set­ting polit­ic­al pris­on­ers free. Lukashen­ko has been hold­ing out the pro­spect of such a release and issu­ing impre­cisely worded invit­a­tions to a Pub­lic Round Table with civil soci­ety, with par­ti­cip­a­tion from abroad.

Sanc­tions – It is under­stood that the sanc­tions tar­get­ting top regime offi­cials and the state-owned com­pan­ies should con­cen­trate on com­pan­ies led by prom­in­ent Lukashen­ko par­tis­ans. Con­sist­ent bans on enterz­ing the European Uni­on should be imposed on gov­ern­ment­al offi­cials who sup­port the repress­ive activ­it­ies tar­get­ting Belarus­i­an cit­izens who have taken a stand for their fun­da­ment­al rights, and shouldered respons­ib­il­ity. Neither west­ern insti­tu­tions nor nation­al agen­cies should issue any loans so long as there are polit­ic­al pris­on­ers in Belarus and until sus­tain­able improve­ment has been made in the human rights situ­ation there.

After hav­ing earned nation­al and inter­na­tion­al appre­ci­ation through the East­er Part­ner­ship, the polit­ic­al and human rights struc­tures of Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety have been sub­stan­tially weakened by the repress­ive meas­ures that fol­lowed 19 Decem­ber 2010 and by the access their gov­erne­ment gained to inform­a­tion about bank accounts held by non-gov­ern­ment­al organ­iz­a­tions in Warsaw and Vil­ni­us. That part of the civil soci­ety act­ive in human rights issues has, to a great extent, been deprived of its capa­city for polit­ic­ally relevent action. The same applies to the grass-roots organ­iz­a­tions that engaged in sys­tem­at­ic elec­tion obser­va­tion using domest­ic struc­tures in recent years.

Proposals for specific measures

In the com­plic­ated envir­on­ment of a strict regime, ensur­ing that EU and its mem­ber states have an act­ive policy in place, above all towards Belarus­i­an civil soci­ety, has taken on even great­er import­ance that it had in past years. For that reas­on, Europe should appoint a European Uni­on Spe­cial Rep­res­ent­at­ive, to intensi­fy and expand cooper­a­tion with civil soci­ety in Belarus, the same should occur at the nation­al level. This is called for both for policy and organ­iz­a­tion­al reas­ons and rep­res­ents the most import­ant of the meas­ures required in order to achieve a coher­ent, effect­ive and sus­tain­able policy for the European insti­tu­tions and nation­al gov­ern­ments, as well as for NGOs in Europe.

It is also neces­sary that more effect­ive coordin­a­tion be used to provide Belarus­i­an cit­izens with effect­ive pro­tec­tion out­side of their coun­try against attacks and manip­u­la­tion by state and state-con­trolled Belarus­i­an agen­cies.

It is a mat­ter of great urgency that these steps should be taken and aug­men­ted by meas­ures in oth­er areas, spe­cific­ally the fol­low­ing:

  • waiv­ing of visa fees and cre­ation of a visa exemp­tion
  • sup­port for the East­ern Part­ner­ship, above all pro­vi­sion of addi­tion­al funds for the Civil For­um)
    large-scale expan­sion of employ­ment and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tun­it­ies for young Belarus­i­ans
  • sup­port for domest­ic elec­tion obser­va­tion (ODIHR is being weakened by polit­ic­al activ­it­ies of the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion at upper and top­most levels)
  • sup­port for inde­pend­ent media
  • Belarus Con­fer­ence in Ber­lin, begin­ning with a con­fer­ence on the iden­tity of Belarus in the past, present and future
  • pub­lic­a­tions on the top­ic “Belarus and the EU
  • pub­lic­a­tions on the top­ic “Human rights in Belarus”
  • act­ive sup­port of the European Human­it­ies Uni­ver­sity (Minsk/​Vilnius) – EHU by the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many